What is Seed Treatment?
A strong seedling is the basis for producing crops with good resiliency, high yields and optimal quality. Seed treatment is an effective way to allow seedlings to establish a strong rooting system, by protecting them against seed and soil-borne fungi and insects. It’s a practical method to deliver pest and disease management products during the growing cycle. Not only does it protect seedlings from harm, it can also enhance seed health, seed nutrition, and soil quality all in one solution. Seed treatment is very flexible as well, allowing it to be tailored to different soil or climate conditions and cropping cycles for the same seed variety.
Advantages of Seed Treatment
Seed treatment has many advantages over other methods of pest and disease control. For one, the doses needed for chemically treated seeds are significantly lower with seed treatment compared to repeat spray applications of the same active ingredient, reducing the environmental impact of the production process.
This is especially relevant as the environmental and health concerns associated with the use of some of these active ingredients are on the rise. New avenues of pest and seed nutrition management are being explored. The concerns associated with chemical seed treatments and active ingredients are contributing to the development of new biopesticide and biostimulant products, which are now gaining acceptance as convincing alternatives.
Seed treatment solutions are also more extensively studied. They undergo supervised laboratory and field trials before they are introduced into the market. This allows the collection of necessary data to prove product safety and compliance with regulatory requirements governing the protection of the environment, local ecology, and human health. On the other hand, microbial solutions require additional assessments to avoid negative impacts on the efficacy or overall performance of seedlings. The compatibility of the different microbial solutions added to seeds needs to be considered, along with their compatibility with microbial organisms and chemicals.
SGS’s Seed Treatment Stewardship Program
As a world leader in quality assurance testing, SGS offers a step-by-step service to help clients bring safe and effective new seed treatment solutions into the market.
The first step is determining if the product can be successfully applied to the seed and its optimum dose rate, dry time and consistency for ideal coverage post-treatment.
Next, product safety is assessed via germination and vigor testing to ensure there are no immediate phytotoxic events. The required long-term product safety studies can be initiated right away or later in the process, and include testing the product alone then in combination with other commercial products. Seeds treated with the product solution are placed into storage and tested periodically to ensure that seed germination, vigor and performance are not affected. The duration of long-term safety tests is typically based on the capacity of the experimental seed treatment solution and its expected storage life.
Once independent product safety and efficacy are established, the product’s compatibility with other active ingredients is tested. A slurry mix is prepared with other commercial ingredients that are likely to be used in combination with the product being tested. Compatibility is assessed via visual observation and monitoring of pH changes, particulate formation and product settling. In the case of microbial solutions, the process typically involves assessing compatibility in slurry solutions during mixing and throughout the treatment process as well as product efficacy for the expected shelf life. For seed treatment solutions, microbial inoculants and colony forming unit (CFU) counts are measured as an added safety measure.
Dust off testing can be conducted to further ensure product safety. Introduced in Germany in 2008, dust off measurements were used to protect pollinators and other non-target organisms from exposure to dust generated by treated seeds. Today, it’s used to evaluate the adhesiveness of treatment solutions by analyzing the amount of dust created from mechanically stressing the treated seeds. Dust off testing uses a Heubach dust meter and measures the levels of free-floating and abrasion particles of treated seeds. The test can be run on samples treated with the product alone or within a commercial solution mix. SGS has partnered with the European Seed Association (ESA) to establish a seed treatment facility certification (ESTA) and set dust reference values for several types of crops. ESTA prevents treated seeds that fail to meet reference values or legal requirements for entering the international market.
The final step is flowability and plantability testing. Seeds treated with experimental products are monitored to see how they flow through seed treatment application, bagging and planting equipment.
On top of the above-required steps, SGS offers additional tests to improve the safety profile of seed treatment products. SGS’s in-house analytical laboratories offer seed treatment application verification (STAV) and homogeneity testing. We also provide crops or environment residue testing, since many of the active ingredients have a systemic effect and translocate within the plant to provide protection. During mixing, loading and planting there is a high risk of exposure to chemicals for personnel, so operator exposure studies are performed to ensure personnel safety. After the successful registration of an active ingredient or seed treatment product, further safety measures are provided as part of the seed treatment stewardship program.
SGS laboratories are validated and accredited by all relevant international standards such as GEP, GLP, and ISO to safely test seed treatment solutions during research, development or as a final product.
With established Centers of Excellence in South Dakota, USA and France we can offer the full support required for research development processes. Quality control testing of treated seeds is available as well in multiple laboratories throughout the USA and Europe, where dust limit values are enforced and independent testing is required.
Our global network of 2,600 SGS offices and laboratories allows us to rapidly replicate procedures and technology to fit our customers’ needs. We also plan to increase investment in the Center of Excellence approach for seed treatment solutions and extend our services for GLP testing in microbiology as part of our continued commitment to the agricultural industry.
For more information, please contact:
Amanda Ver Helst
SGS Laboratory Research Manager
This article was initially published in AgroPages' '2021 Seed Treatment Special' magazine.